One half of the main and co-main events of UFC Paris, respectively, the two are coming off of arguably the most humbling setbacks of their careers. For Gane, it was a quick submission loss to Jon Jones in which Jones made him look completely out of his element. For Namajunas, it was a decision loss to Carla Esparza that cost her the UFC strawweight title and left fans wondering what her game plan was; neither she nor Esparza seemed particularly interested in winning the fight.
On Saturday, Gane has to prove the wrestling defense that failed him in two heavyweight championship bouts is no longer an issue as he takes on the bullish Serghei Spivac, and Namajunas has a chance at new life as she moves up a division to face top flyweight contender Manon Fiorot.
What: UFC Paris
Where: Accor Arena in Paris
(Numbers in parentheses indicate standing in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings)
Table of Contents
Ciryl Gane (3) vs. Serghei Spivac (10)
The first time Serghei Spivac shoots in for a takedown, Ciryl Gane fans will experience some ugly flashbacks.
Yes, Gane looked like a fish all the way out of water with Jon Jones bearing down on him. And yes, he also looked bad when defending takedowns against noted non-wrestler Francis Ngannou. We all saw these things happen. We all have eyes.
And yet, I’m still picking Gane in this striker vs. grappler matchup, even knowing Spivac is exactly the kind of wrestle-first, strike-later opponent that could completely spoil Gane’s homecoming. Gane really hasn’t given us a lot of reasons to believe he can deal with high-level grappling, so this is more of a pick of faith and confidence in his team do to the right thing and drill takedown defense like there’s no tomorrow. Because in MMA, a run of losses can cause that bright future to dim real fast.
More importantly, Gane is still one of the fastest, most athletic heavyweights on the planet, and that goes a long way when your main goal is to avoid getting grabbed. Spivac will do his best to cut Gane off, but he’ll find “Bon Gamin” to be a slippery target, and every failed attempt will leave him open to Gane’s strikes.
Frustration will set in for Spivac, and that’s when Gane will turn up the heat, take his shot, and put Spivac down for the count.
Manon Fiorot (5) vs. Rose Namajunas (5, SW)
Rose Namajunas is getting thrown into the deep end here, and I have my doubts about how she’ll navigate these waters.
In Manon Fiorot, they’ve not only given her a stiff first test at 125 pounds, they’ve also given her an opponent with a tricky, karate-based striking style that has left several talented women unable to figure her out. She’s not exactly Lyoto Machida out there, but Fiorot has a few rarely-seen techniques that are difficult for anyone to prepare for.
Is Namajunas going up in weight for the right reasons? Were the cuts just getting more difficult? Did she simply feel like she’d done enough at the weight class after mostly having success going through the Zhang Weili–Joanna Jedrzejczyk–Jessica Andrade rematch meat grinder? Does she see herself as a genuine threat to crash the party that’s currently occupied by just a handful of credible flyweight contenders?
On her best day, Namajunas can beat anyone. She’s proven that. But she’s giving up a lot of size to Fiorot, and she’s coming off a long layoff that one can either view as rejuvenating – or a sign of disinterest in a game where she’s been competing at the highest level for over a decade. I’m leaning toward the latter, and there’s nothing wrong with that if that’s where Namajunas’ head is at.
Taking on a challenge like this, though, Namajunas has to be sharp, and I don’t think she’ll be able to figure Fiorot out quickly enough to win this one. Fiorot leads the dance en route to taking a convincing decision win.
Benoit Saint Denis vs. Thiago Moises
This is a battle of dark-horse lightweight contenders.
He’s been the B-side of some big matchups, so you can’t be blamed for not noticing that Thiago Moises has put together a pretty solid UFC résumé. He’s 6-4 inside the octagon with wins over guys like Bobby Green and Michael Johnson. He’s just faltered against top names, but can we really knock a guy too much for losses to Islam Makhachev and Beneil Dariush, the latter of which came in Moises’ UFC debut? At 28, there’s still plenty of time for the always-exciting Moises to make an impact.
The same could be said of Benoit Saint Denis, 27, who has surged in the 155-pound ranks since an ill-fated, short-notice debut at welterweight. He’s shredded his past three opponents, none of whom have made it past the first round, and he’s living up to the pre-UFC hype that he built as a standout in Brave CF.
The matchmakers knocked it out of the park with this one. It’s about a good a pairing as you can get outside of the top-20, and the Paris crowd is going to go nuts for Saint Denis. These two will exchange on the feet and work their tails off on the ground, with neither retreating for too long. I’m pumped!
Home court advantage and slightly better standup gives Saint Denis the edge on the scorecards here.
Pick: Saint Denis
Volkan Oezdemir (15) vs. Bogdan Guskov
Stepping in for Azamat Murzakanov, Bogdan Guskov enters the UFC with a reputation as a hard-hitting sniper. He’s patient, knows how to use his reach, and when he sees his opening, he presses forward with big punches. Not a bad replacement opponent if the UFC is hoping to generate fireworks on short notice.
Volkan Oezdemir was once the mysterious newcomer with knockout power, so he has to be on his best behavior to avoid being the latest victim of the combat sports circle of life. I’m confident he doesn’t get caught as the gap in quality of competition between he and Guskov is as wide as it gets. He might be threatened early, but Oezdemir’s counter-striking will get him out of trouble and set him up for his own highlight.
“No Time” by first-round knockout.
William Gomis vs. Yanis Ghemmouri
William Gomis and Yanis Ghemmouri find themselves facing off after a fight-week shuffle, with Gomis originally set to face Lucas Almeida and Ghemmouri scheduled to fight Caolan Loughran. Almeida bowed out with an injury, freeing up a spot for Ghemmouri (who moves up to 145 pouunds for this fight), while Loughran replaces Muin Gafurov (visa) against Taylor Lapilus on the prelims. Got all that?
Long story short, there’s plenty of upset potential here, with the dangerous Ghemmouri finding his finishing touch in his past two Brave CF outings. Neither he nor Gomis are strangers to the scorecards, but expect Ghemmouri to come out blasting with the goal of catching the taller Gomis off guard.
Gomis has hardly lit the octagon on fire since making his debut in September 2022, but he’s 2-0 in the UFC and has won his past 10 fights. He’s doing something right. Somewhat cynically, I’d compare his current form to that of a young Leon Edwards, which is to say effective, if not always memorable. If Gomis has a career like Edwards does, however, I doubt anyone would complain.
Give me the underdog here, though. I just feel there’s something funky about this matchup, and the fact that both Frenchmen will be drawing strength from the home crowd only increases the chances of something weird happening. Wild guess, I’m saying Ghemmouri by knockout.
Morgan Charriere vs. Manolo Zecchini
This could be a fascinating clash of striking styles, or a damp squib, depending on how the more experienced Morgan Charriere chooses to approach this one. One knock on Charriere is that he tends to be hesitant to pull the trigger, but that might be wise against the unorthodox Manolo Zecchini.
The Italian newcomer uses plenty of side-to-side movement to set up his attacks and keep his opponents off-balance, something Charriere and his team must be well aware of. Charriere has a comparatively traditional approach to the standup game, which allows him to search for counters and set up takedowns when he’s so inclined.
It’s the wrestling that is a major question mark for Zecchini here, because Charriere is comfortable controlling the fight from top position when a takedown presents itself. Should Charriere force the action, it will put Zecchini’s grappling defense and ability to deal with pressure to the test.
As unpredictable as Zecchini is, Charriere shouldn’t have too much difficulty figuring him out over the course of three rounds. I have Charriere winning a decision.
Taylor Lapilus def. Caolan Loughran